This feeling of being stuck seems to reside deep in our gut, and it is surrounded by fear.
You know when you feel stuck? I mean really stuck? Maybe you’re stuck in a bad marriage, or a really crappy job. Or you’re stuck with a body that is causing you grief (for whatever reason). Or perhaps you feel stuck and need to let out more of your creative light, say, write a book or start drawing or painting (again), or reinvigorate your vitality at work.
Whatever it is, this feeling of being stuck seems to reside deep in our gut, and it is surrounded by fear: fear of the unknown, fear of change, fear of failure. Often enough it is also the fear of success that can bind us from even attempting to achieve our dreams. Somewhere inside us we think: “What will I have to give up if I accept this new way of being?” Comfort is something difficult for most of us to relinquish.
I was feeling stuck the other day, not an uncommon experience for me in life, and I was exploring how uncomfortable it made me feel and why, in fact, I felt stuck. Then I remembered this wonderful experience I had with a woman who was part of a writing group I attended while in Bali.
I had gone to Bali in an exhausted state in an attempt to heal my wounded self. I had lost not only the love of my life, but all the dreams we had been working toward for over a decade. After this experience, nothing seemed to fit in my life. Just weeks after he passed, I began to realize that the cozy, sweet life we had created together was something that needed to be shared, not savored alone.
My life had been turned into a blank slate at a time in life when many people are enjoying the fruits of their labors: financial prosperity, a solid family life, and career successes. My partner and I had joined forces entirely, put all our proverbial eggs in one basket, and the basket was full and good. But without the partnership, it all seemed pointless.
So Bali, with all of its spiritual connotations, seemed like a possible fit for my healing journey. I decided to rent a villa (thank you, Eat, Pray, Love, for the inspiration) and for weeks, I slept, wept, and wrote. Bali’s mystical and spiritual traditions seemed to offer a safer haven for my catharsis. While there, I let it all out. I stopped trying to keep it all together. I listened, and wondered what I would make of it all. There were several moments where I wondered if I would actually decide to continue on. Most importantly, I faced it all: the grief, the loss, the fears.
As the weeks unfolded, I stumbled upon a flyer that “invited” me to a writing group. So I showed up at this rather large gathering of writers and wannabe writers, and jumped right in. As we went around the circle to discuss why we had come, one woman named Katrina shared a story. It was a story about her recurring dream, and what she told the group changed me forever. She shared that she, for years, had been having a recurring dream of falling. It had created a tremendous amount of anxiety and discomfort for her in her life. But it was the final dream that she had had about falling that changed everything.
One auspicious night, she dreamt, once again, that she was falling—but this time it was a lucid dream. Even though it felt real, she knew she was dreaming. Having come back to this point of fear once again, she was fed up with it. She was tired of feeling powerless and helpless. Tired of the anxiety cycle that seemed to go on and on. So she gritted her teeth, got her courage together, and decided to do something radical: she decided to dive into the fall, rather than try to resist it. As she fell toward certain annihilation, moments before the point of impact, she stretched out her arms and said “Screw it, I’m going for this.” Her intention was not to die, or hit the pavement. Her intention was to face the fear and find her freedom from it.
As she was falling, she pushed into the fear. Instead of feeling helpless and hopeless and afraid, she faced the oncoming earth with a new alchemical fire: Courage. Remember, courage isn’t about being without fear; it’s about facing your fears and moving through them. Now, the dream would have a different ending.
With her newfound intention, and as she hurled toward the earth, her trajectory changed and she started flying; she swooped down just a few feet from the earth, and started to return upward. Before she knew it she was free. And she was flying!
The feeling Katrina got from this experience was pure empowerment and bliss: a sensation of freedom from an anxiety long-held. After that night, the anxiety dream no longer recurred.
In the Buddhist tradition, I have often heard it said that we can turn toward our suffering and our fears and let them grow. At first, I couldn’t possibly understand this logic. In fact, it sounded quite counterproductive.
Now, I understand.
“The only way out is through” has been one of my personal power mantras for years, and I have long taught that the only way out of our suffering is through the heart of it. Now, after years of saying it and teaching it and trying to live it, I am finally “getting” it.
When I am stuck, or angry, or simply terrified of being in this crazy world, I now explore this feeling by entering into it fully. What does it feel like? How does my resistance to feeling it make it even worse? How does my exploration of it disempower the hold it has on me?
Just as shining a light into a dark room helps us see how to walk through the room without bumping into furniture, shining the light of awareness into the dark spaces of our minds allows us to navigate the depths of our minds without bumping extemporaneous stuff (fears that cause us to get “stuck”) that can block our way.
So maybe the next time you are confronted with a fear, instead of resisting it (what you resist, persists), try looking it square in the eye and as Katrina did, say “Screw it, I’m going for this” and dive into your freedom.